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More book reviews from Rapid Reader

July 13, 2012

“NEVER TELL” BY ALAFAIR BURKE
Publication Date: June 19, 2012

NYPD Homicide Detective, Ellie Hatcher, and her partner, J.J. Rogan, are called to the scene of what appears to be a suicide. A sixteen year old with an eating disorder slashes her wrists in the bathtub and even leaves a suicide note. When the wealthy parents of the deceased use their money and connections to bring an investigation, Ellie soon realizes that there’s more to this case than meets the eye.

Alafair Burke has always been, for me, one of those authors from whom I’ve read a few books but while they weren’t bad, they weren’t great so I didn’t make her series a priority. This novel leaves me with one question – when did she get so good?

I did originally like the Ellie Hatcher series better than Samantha Kincaid series. Burke seems to have more of a connection with Ellie and with New York City. Never Tell: A Novel of Suspense is the fourth novel in the Ellie Hatcher series and Burke seems to have hit her stride with the character. Burke starts the novel beautifully with a narrative laced in haunting detail of a blogger who had been the victim of abuse. My Kindle note after those first few pages simply reads “Wow” and that sense of awe set the tone for this novel.

Never Tell: A Novel of Suspense does divert into several storylines that really feel like they don’t connect but Burke does bring them together in a way that makes sense. This sort of diversion can be off-putting to certain readers but didn’t bother this reader at all.

I have read one of the Ellie Hatcher novels and had no problem connecting with her character and a host of others in Never Tell: A Novel of Suspense. Does Burke lean a little on the wealthy elitist stereotype for the parents? Yes, she does. I think shows like the Real Housewives of New York show us that we’ll connect to that stereotype and Burke capitalizes on the phenomena. When you have so many characters it may bother some readers to rely on stereotypes. You may recall, I reviewed a book here when I complained of an author doing that very thing. I think in the case of Never Tell: A Novel of Suspense, there are so many characters that these few exceptions probably helped to flesh out what we were reading with bogging down the narrative with wasted explanation. While it may sound a negative to put it this way, there’s so much going on that it’s hard not to excuse a little slip here and there in the craftsmanship of the novel.

My big problem with Burke’s work in the past is the sense of inserting a romance plotline. I have read authors like Alex Kava (whose new work I’ll soon be reviewing) and J.T. Ellison say that, as female writers in the mystery genre, they’re encouraged to insert sex or relationship into their novels. I know in the case of Kava and in the past, Burke, those relationships come off as off-putting and distracting to this reader. It’s clear that this is something the author feels like they should do but aren’t so much into the idea. In the case of Never Tell: A Novel of Suspense, Burke adds a minimalistic touch that this reader certainly appreciated to that aspect of the storyline. I can deal with sex in a storyline and like it but I know when it’s done well and when it’s not and if it’s not done well (see Natalie Gibson whose third novel I’ll soon be reviewing), I don’t want to read it.

If you are a fan of the genre, you may find that Ellie doesn’t really bring anything new to the table. In the case of Never Tell: A Novel of Suspense, Ellie was less the lure than the premise – a teen caught up in teen politics and something insidious and huge relating to cyber bullying. Ellie and J.J. Rogan are adults investigating a world of children. We see, in the genre, trends and I think that Burke is within a bullying trend. Like Fredman before her, while this is definitely in a genre (mystery/thriller), and conforms to the strictures of that genre, it brings a new spin to a subject that I believe we’ll see come up a lot within the mystery/thriller genre within the next year.

Burke trends to write from true crime and I would be fascinated to read the case on which this novel is based. I would actually love to see some true crime come from Burke though I have to think there’s less traction in that genre.

Alafair Burke is going on my “to read right away” list. Never Tell: A Novel of Suspense is well worth the cover price and the time it takes to read and will lead me to go back and read the rest of the Ellie Hatcher series. I’ll probably also read Burke’s Samantha Kincaid series because, as the character got to be an uncredited Reacher Girl, you know she’s got to be cool.

Posted on July 13, 2012 by admin, Reply
TALES OF SURUALE: DAVI BY ROY C BOOTH, BRIAN WOODS AND DRUSCILLA MORGAN (ILLUSTRATOR)
Publication Date: March 31, 2011

Davi is a human swordsmith living in a Middle Earth like world. When his own people burn him out of his home and send Davi to try to open a trade route with a nearby Kingdom of Dwarves, Davi must survive by his wits and decide where his loyalty lies.
The author sent me this novel for review describing it as a Lord of the Rings sort of read. Every year as a child, the principal of the small Christian school attended read us the Lord of the Rings series so I am a big fan. While I do believe that comparison may be the best way to describe the story, it’s also a very different not only in the setting and world but in the general way it reads. Very different but no less compelling.

From the moment we meet Davi, we feel for him. He’s an outcast with his own people and when he proves himself to the dwarves and some of them accept him as their “tall brother,” its all so new to him that his confusion and appreciation for the other characters leaps off of the page.

As I read the Kindle version of this novel, I cannot comment on the illustrations but would have been interested to see them.

The world painted is complex. Suruale is divided into Kingdoms with the Assassins having their hand in all and they come into play when Davi is sent to rescue the Timekeeper. This is a short story so the authors focus on the dwarves and humans but there are hints of the vast potential of this series and the diversity of races in Suruale throughout. My biggest complaint about the story is that I wanted more of Davi and his adventures when it was over. I will be keeping a close eye on this series in future.

Posted on July 10, 2012 by admin, Reply
“NO SUCH THING AS SECRET” BY SHELLY FREDMAN
Publication Date: May 20, 2005

Brandy Alexander is a Philadelphia girl living in LA and working as a human interest journalist. She returns to Philadelphia after four years away to participate in a friend’s wedding to find that her best friend is embroiled in intrigue relating to a murder at a popular S&M club. When a boat explodes and the friend goes missing and presumed dead, Brandy sets out to solve the mystery with new friend, Nick Santiago. She hopes to avoid Bobby DiCarlo, the childhood boyfriend who broke her heart. Problem? He’s the lead investigator on the case.

No Such Thing as a Secret: A Brandy Alexander Mystery (No Such Thing As…A Brandy Alexander Mystery) is the first novel in the Brandy Alexander series.

This was a fun read. This wasn’t “War and Peace” and I don’t think it aspires to be (though I’ve never read “War and Peace” so what do I know?). Brandy is a very relatable character who wants to get ahead and despite her efforts has landed in a job that doesn’t fit where she saw herself going in life but she’s not bitter. She’s a chocoholic and buys Halloween candy hoping no one shows up. She has good friends with whom she has a strong bond and solid parents who reminded me of my own parents in the way they talk over each other when we’re on the phone.

A lot of novels will list the setting as a certain city but could have been set anywhere. Not so this novel. Brandy is in Philadelphia and Fredman reminds us with local color, cheesesteaks and tastycakes. I found her local characters to remind me a great deal of my grandparents and Cleveland, Ohio – the area in which they were raised. The blue collar, honest, proud to be American but also proud of where their parents came from folks, who make up a city landscape. One particular moment that brought a tear to this readers eye was when Brandy and her friend visit a restaurant and she tells us that her mother says of the restaurant that, “The food isn’t very good but they give you a lot of it.” My truck driving, food loving, grandfather said that frequently. A lot of food was his benchmark for frequenting a place. Brandy also tells us that she was a good eater and praised for its…as I remember my grandmother doing and my basking in the glow of her approval. I can relate to Brandy and that is maybe the key of a more successful cozy character.

The mystery plotline of this book, though it can’t be called anything but a cozy, was solid. Brandy’s friend has potential evidence to a murder, he disappears and is suspected dead and Brandy will do whatever it takes to find out what really happened. Things didn’t happen TO Brandy, she made them happen and she did it in such a way that was as smart as she could be. She asked for help before jumping in headfirst but if that help wasn’t forthcoming she was still going to jump in because that’s what Brandy Alexander does for her friends. When faced with a potential assault, she saved herself in a creative way showing us that girl power is not dead in her genre.

As first novels go, this one was very good. Was it a perfect read? Not so much but we needed to get to know Brandy and in getting to know her, we had to endure some male character leg lifting. Brandy’s ex, Bobby DiCarlo, despite being married, is conflicted in his feelings for Brandy. She’s not crystal clear on what she wants from him either but she knows he’s married and she’s a woman of principle. One of my favorite lines of the novel is when Brandy tells us that “Bobby used to complete me and now I complete myself.” So rare of female characters of the genre but a realization I so love to read. I know, in that moment, that Brandy Alexander is not a will she or won’t she kind of character, she will get the job done.

I have long been involved in fan fiction based on the Stephanie Plum novels by Janet Evanovich and heard of this series many times as something someone who likes Plum would enjoy. I heard the parallels drawn to the Plum characters. After reading this novel, even the more capable Stephanie of “One for the Money” doesn’t compare to Brandy. Things always happen to Stephanie that aren’t her fault but Brandy takes responsibility. One only has to look at the worry she exercised over the car she borrowed from her brother. Morelli also does not compare, in my mind, to DiCarlo. I think both characters are good guys but Morelli is poorly drawn whereas Bobby is fleshed out with a sad past but a past nonetheless which gives us ideas as to his motivation within the story.

I do think that perhaps some fan fic writers who write Ranger fill in the blanks of his character with the works of better authors like Fredman. In reading I was struck by how much the fan fiction Ranger (not the canon Ranger) resembles Nick. Is it fair, I wondered, to these authors who write their characters so well to have their work emulated by people who write fan fiction based on other authors? Shouldn’t Fredman have fan fiction of her own? I discussed this with a group of women who had read both fan fiction and Fredman’s novels after finishing this book and realized that the bald fact is that fan fiction is generated by what we want to see happen and if a story satisfies us are we don’t need to look for stories to fill a void.

No Such Thing As A Free Ride…A Brandy Alexander Mystery (No Such Thing As…A Brandy Alexander Mystery) was released in 2010 and is the fourth novel in the Brandy Alexander series. Shelly Fredman says in the discussion of her novels at Amazon that she hopes to have the fifth novel out in Spring 2013. Plenty of time for me to catch up on the series.

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